Gene Schott (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)

Gene Schott

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf


Gene Schott (NATIONAL BASEBALL HALL OF FAME LIBRARY)A local teenage pitching prodigy, Gene Schott signed with his hometown Cincinnati Reds and participated in spring training as an 18-year-old in 1932. He eventually went 28-41 in parts of five big-league seasons (1935-39). He etched his name in baseball and local Cincinnati lore amid the devastating Ohio River flood in January 1937. A widely circulated photo depicted him and two others in a boat rowing over the center-field bleachers inside Crosley Field.

Arthur Eugene Schott was born on July 14, 1913, in Batavia, a small town of about 1,000 residents located 30 miles east of Cincinnati in southwest Ohio. His parents were Clarence B. Eppert, who worked at the local powerhouse, and Marabeth (née Woods), a homemaker. Together they had two children, Stanley and Gene, who was four years younger. The Epperts divorced sometime before 1920. Marabeth subsequently married Albert Schott and relocated to Cincinnati, where Albert worked as a fireman.1

The name Schott later became much more prominent in Reds history when Marge Schott became the team’s majority owner in 1984, a role she held through 1999. However, if Marge’s husband, Charles Schott, was related to Gene’s stepfather, they do not appear to have been close kin.2

Gene attended Woodward High School and completed his education at Batavia High School.3 Already standing 6-feet-2 by the age of 16, he earned his reputation as a phenom while hurling for the Adler Aces in the Cincinnati Municipal Association. This club competed in regional tournaments against teams from as far away as St. Louis and Louisville. Schott, a hard-throwing right-hander, drew the attention of baseball scouts. He signed with the hometown Reds after graduating in 1931.

The 18-year-old Schott was invited to the Reds camp in Tampa the following spring. Skipper Dan Howley raved, “[T]hat boy has the making of a star pitcher.” Howley predicted, “[I]n a year or two, when he has filled out a bit I think he will be good enough for any man’s club.”4 Practicing with the likes of veteran pitchers Red Lucas and Larry Benton, Schott held his own. No one expected the teenager to make the team; however, Howley suggested that he shouldn’t be sent to the minors either. “I wish Schott would stay in the majors and pitch a couple of semi-pro games a week and spend the rest of his time at Redland Field with us,” said the manager. “I think he would learn more that way and would not run the risk of being burned out.”5

Indeed, the Reds were careful with their young prodigy. Schott appeared in only four minor-league games in 1932, with two Class B clubs, Peoria and Cedar Rapids. He also pitched in an exhibition game against the Reds in early June.6 In addition, that summer he tossed batting practice for the big-league club at both Redland Field and on the road.7 As Howley had suggested, Schott’s primary pitching was for semipro clubs, including the local Coca-Cola team and the Shelvin All-Professional Club. The latter was a regional traveling team that also played against Negro League and barnstorming teams.

Back with the Reds at spring training in 1933, Schott was paired with 42-year-old graybeard Eppa Rixey. New manager Donie Bush hoped Rixey — the winningest left-hander in baseball history at the time — could teach him some tricks of the trade. The Reds had a scare near the end of camp when a car driven by trainer Larry McManus collided with a stalled vehicle on a road outside Tampa. All four passengers escaped serious injury, including Schott (who was bruised) and 20-year-old Tony Robello (who received a laceration above an eye). Schott was assigned to the Topeka Senators in the Class A Western League, where he went 15-14 and logged 225 innings.

The big news at the Reds spring training in 1934 was Sidney Weil’s sale of the cash-strapped club to Powel Crosley, a Cincinnati entrepreneur. The Reds were coming off a last-place finish in 1933 and were headed to an even worse campaign in 1934. After his strong showing in his first full season in Organized Baseball, Schott was a “candidate for a mound job,” suggested beat writer Lou Smith.8 However, the club wisely assigned the 20-year-old to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Schott emerged as the best young hurler in the International League and earned an All-Star berth with a 18-9 record. He also helped the Leafs, who finished third in the regular season, qualify for the league title. However, he came down with a sore arm during the playoffs and subsequent loss to the American Association Columbus Red Birds in the Junior World Series.

Schott’s two-year minor-league apprenticeship was enough for Chuck Dressen, in his first full season as Reds skipper in 1935. The 5-foot-5 former Reds third sacker believed that the club’s only hometown player would help the team avoid last place for a fifth straight season. Praised for his “fire-ball, better than average control, and a good pitching noodle for a youngster,” Schott had a productive spring and then made his first appearance in Crosley Field on April 14 in an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers.9 Dressen had promised to pitch Schott “so that his many local admirers could see the young right-hander shape up as a big leaguer.”10

Two days later, Schott made his major-league debut in the Reds’ season opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He tossed two-thirds of an inning in relief, surrendered a single, walked one, and permitted both inherited runners to score in a blowout loss.

After one more relief outing, Schott got his first start on April 30 — and “pitched brilliantly,” wrote Jack Ryder in the Cincinnati Enquirer. The youngster threw a five-hitter to beat the reigning World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals, 12-2, for his maiden victory.11 He also helped himself at the plate, scoring twice and connecting for an RBI single.

Serving as a spot starter through July, Schott was wildly inconsistent. He ended that month with a disastrous start in which he yielded three runs and didn’t retire a batter, pushing his ERA to 5.03. With the Reds battling the perennial also-rans Philadelphia Phillies to avoid seventh place, Dressen stuck with his youngster and his trust paid off. Schott tossed his first shutout, a four-hitter, to beat the Chicago Cubs on August 2.

With that performance, the rookie turned a corner. Over the last two months of the season, he joined staff ace Paul Derringer12 (22-13) in a formidable one-two punch, going 6-4 with a 2.81 ERA, This stretch was highlighted by three straight six-hit complete games. Overall, Schott made 19 starts among his 33 appearances and posted a 3.91 ERA — a shade better than the league average — in 159 innings.

Schott “delivered the goods,” opined the Enquirer following the Reds’ sixth-place finish. The article criticized Dressen for not pitching him often enough in the early part of the season.13 Just 21 years old, Schott was the youngest regular starting pitcher in the majors.

In 1936 the Reds conducted a baseball tour in Puerto Rico prior to spring training in Tampa. Little was expected of the team, which prognosticators had pegged for its 10th consecutive losing season. However, pitching was expected to be its strength. Coming off his solid rookie season, Schott was touted for his “stuff” and loads of potential. But like his team, Schott got off to a terrible start. On June 5 he was hammered by the cellar-dwelling Boston Bees for five runs in 2⅔ innings, his third start in which he failed to complete five innings. President and GM Larry MacPhail quipped, “You don’t have to call upon a statistician to find out that the Reds’ pitching has been below par.”14

His next appearance didn’t come until June 19, but Schott provided “brilliant relief pitching.”15 In Boston, he replaced Wild Bill Hallahan in the first inning and tossed 8⅓ scoreless innings to beat the Bees, 8-4. The good-hitting pitcher also whacked his only career home run. (He batted .300 with 18 hits that year and .211 lifetime.)

Schott once again finished strong, winning three straight starts in September, helping the fifth-place Reds (74-80) to their only winning month of the season. He lost two tough extra-inning complete games, including a career-best 11⅓-inning, 5-4 grinder against the Cardinals in St. Louis to end his season.

Its location on the Ohio River made Cincinnati flood-prone, but the disaster of early 1937 was like nothing else in its history. Heavy rains caused the river and its many tributaries to overflow their banks in mid-January. On January 26 the Ohio crested at 80 feet, flooding 12 square miles of the city.16 Included was Crosley Field, located about 1½ miles north of the main river, whose infield was submerged in 21 feet of water. The lower grandstand, clubhouses, and press boxes were also completely under water. Actually, the ballpark was flooded by Mill Creek, a small tributary 2,000 feet to the west. The creek’s slow current saved the park from extensive damage.

The Reds brass recognized an opportunity for publicity. In a staged setting on January 27, when floodwaters began to recede, photographers took a series of photos with Schott, pitcher Lee Grissom, and groundskeeper Marty Schwab in a rowboat inside Crosley Field. One widely published image depicts the three rowing over the center-field bleachers. Another shot, perhaps even more famous, shows Grissom waving his fedora and Schwab rowing over the infield.

Cincinnati Reds pitchers Lee Grissom, left, and Gene Schott row a boat through center field at Crosley Field during the Ohio River floods in 1937 (MLB.COM)

Curious residents followed Schott and Grissom’s example by rowing their boats through the park until the club erected barricades and began cleanup efforts. “We had 10 to 40 men patrolling the field in rowboats night and day,” said Warren Giles, who had been named GM just months earlier. “[T]hey kept dragging the floating oil drums, whiskey casks, auto tires, timbers, packing cases, etc., away from the stands and club house before they could do damage.” Crosley Field was completely repaired for the Reds season opener.

Dressen was “enthused” about his pitching staff, which he believed could lead the club to a first-division finish in 1937.17 Joining Derringer was a trio of southpaws: Grissom, who emerged as an All-Star that year, Al Hollingsworth, and highly touted, hard-throwing rookie Johnny Vander Meer, Peaches Davis and Schott also competed for starts. Schott was bothered by shoulder discomfort during most of camp, though, and was hit hard in his first start. By mid-May he was sidelined — it was the same pain that had handicapped Schott’s pitching a year earlier, noted the Enquirer — and eventually hospitalized. Team physician Dr. Reed Shank examined his ailing shoulder.18

Schott pitched infrequently, and primarily in low-leverage relief situations, in the first four months of the season. His record dropped to 1-9 after a rough outing (yielding 12 baserunners in 5⅔ innings) on September 1.

Then, however, with the Reds in last place, Schott unexpectedly turned in the best stretch of his big-league career. Over the last 3½ weeks, he completed five of six starts, relieved twice and compiled a stellar 1.49 ERA in 54⅓ innings. Included were consecutive shutouts over the Dodgers and Bees, in which he yielded only nine combined hits. Schott’s unsightly 4-13 record for the 98-loss club was deceptive. He posted the NL’s eighth-best ERA (2.97) in 154⅓ innings.

Despite Schott’s injury history, the Reds offered him a rare two-year contract prior to spring training in 1938. The 24-year-old seemed strong in camp and had added 15 pounds, bulking up to almost 200. He impressed new skipper — and renowned handler of pitchers — Bill McKechnie with an effective camp. However, Schott was “thoroughly pummeled” in two exhibition starts as the Reds made their way north, reported the Enquirer. It caused McKechnie concern.19

Schott’s struggles continued as the regular season commenced. He was pounded for 25 hits and 17 runs in just 15⅓ innings in his first three starts, and was shunted to the bullpen. The Reds reportedly placed the struggling hurler on waivers in mid-May, but refused to sell his contract to the Dodgers.20 Often appearing in mop-up situations, the ailing Schott posted a 5-5 record and subpar 4.45 ERA in 83 innings as the Deacon led the fourth-place Reds to their best season since 1926.

In 1939 McKechnie hedged his bets with Schott, whose days with the club seemed numbered in spring training. The Enquirer described Schott’s fastball as “conspicuous by its absence” and his curveball as “[not] good enough to get by on.”21 He took infield practice at third base for a possible position shift if he could no longer pitch. However, such a transition was a pipedream — the Reds had acquired speedy, slick-hitting Billy Werber from the Philadelphia Athletics in the offseason.

Cincinnati closed the book on the popular hometown player by selling him to the Phillies in a waiver deal on May 5. After just four ineffective appearances, Schott was sold again, six weeks later, to the Dodgers. There he was reunited with his former skipper Dressen (a coach under player-manager Leo Durocher). Schott, however, never pitched a game for Brooklyn. He made one pinch-running appearance and was soon optioned to the Montreal Royals in the International League.

Schott’s tenure with the Royals was abbreviated. After posting a 7.77 ERA in 44 innings in 1939, he missed most of the club’s 1940 spring training in Lake Wales, Florida, with a sore arm. He did not accompany the team upon its return to Canada. By June he had officially left the game at the age of 25, at a time when many pitchers are just entering their prime.

Schott went 28-41 with a 3.72 ERA in 587⅓ innings, making 62 starts among his 136 appearances in parts of five big-league seasons. He went 35-29 in the minors.

Aside from his shoulder pain, which made pitching almost impossible, Schott had another reason to retire. In May 1940 he married Cincinnatian Hazel Jamison, known as “Bonnie.” They had one child, Ron. Schott eventually opened a restaurant in Williamsburg, about 30 miles east of Cincinnati and near his birthplace, Batavia. Schott occasionally participated in pitching clinics and attended Reds games. Around 1950, the Schotts relocated to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where they opened a beauty salon.

Gene Schott died on November 16, 1992, at the age of 79, in the retirement community of Sun City, Florida. Services were held at the Myrtle Hill Funeral Home and he was buried in the Garden of Memories in Tampa.22

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and Len Levin and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, the SABR Minor Leagues Database, accessed online at Baseball-Reference.com, SABR.org, The Sporting News archive via Paper of Record, newspapers via Newspapers.com, and Ancestry.com.

 

Notes

1 Family information from the US Census of 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 via Ancestry.com.

2 Charles Schott was a member of a wealthy Cincinnati society family.

3 High-school information from Joe Heffron and Jack Heffron, “Gene Schott,” The Local Boys: Home Town Players for the Cincinnati Reds (Cincinnati: Clerisy Press, 2014), 168-169.

4 “Down at Tampa, The Redlegs Training Grounds,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 13, 1932: 14.

5 “Scarcity of Infielders Prevents Practice Game,” Cincinnati, Enquirer, March 8, 1932: 13.

6 Jack Ryder, “Reds Win,” Cincinnati Enquirer,” June 3, 1932: 14.

7 “Star Youngster Is to Face Frey on Hill Today,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 1, 1932: 24.

8 Lou Smith, “Sport Sparks,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 12, 1934: 14.

9 “Minors Coming Up to the Majors in ’35,” The Sporting News, November 15, 1934: 8.

10 Jack Ryder, “Reds Sign Bottomley — Our Lads in Final with Tigers Today,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 14, 1935: 31.

11 Jack Ryder, “Our Redlegs Smack World Champions for Dozen Runs,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 1, 1935: 13.

12 Derringer had made history earlier in the season when he beat the Phillies, 2-1, on May 24 at Crosley Field, the first night game in major-league history.

13 “Baseball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 20, 1935: 52.

14 “Baseball,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 14, 1936: IV, 4.

15 Lou Smith, “Redlegs Ride That Old Apple in Defeating Boston Bees,” Cincinnati Enquirer, June 20, 1936: 12.

16 “January 26, 1937,” Severe Weather in Ohio, ohsweb.ohiohistory.org/swio/pages/content/1937_flood.htm.

17 Lou Smith, “Dressen Enthused Over Showing Made by Young Pitchers,” Cincinnati Enquirer, March 7, 1937: 40.

18 “Boston Here Again Today; Hallahan to Face Rookie,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 20, 1937: 18.

19 McKechnie Worrying Over Gene Schott’s Poor Showing; However, Craft’s Fine Work Brings Out the Real Smile,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1938: 17.

20 “Reds Counting on Peaches for Fourth in Row Today,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 23, 1938: 13.

21 “Gene Schott Is Being Groomed for Infield Position; Ival Goodman Shows He Still Maintains Socking Eye,” Cincinnati Enquirer, April 12, 1939: 14.

22 “Obituaries,” Tampa Tribune, November 18, 1992: 32.

Full Name

Arthur Eugene Schott

Born

July 14, 1913 at Batavia, OH (USA)

Died

November 16, 1992 at Sun City Center, FL (USA)

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